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Police arrest demonstrators on University of Tennessee campus

(Knox News) From Knox News: University of Tennessee and Knoxville Police Department officers arrested nine demonstrators on campus around 9:30 p.m. T

(Knox News)

From Knox News: University of Tennessee and Knoxville Police Department officers arrested nine demonstrators on campus around 9:30 p.m. Thursday. They were brought to the campus police station and were released soon after.


Seven of those arrested were students, two were community members.


Pro-Palestine demonstrators had peacefully gathered on campus for most of the day May 2, and were in talks with school administrators over demands the university identify and divest from assets with ties to Israel.


Throughout the day, administrators posted signs and distributed flyers about campus rules and a Tennessee law against camping after 10 p.m. on state property, a move by the Tennessee legislature designed to limit political demonstrations.


Officers set up fencing after the arrests around the College of Law lawn on Cumberland Avenue, where demonstrators had gathered all day with protest signs.


Arrestees were students and community members

Those who were arrested were released soon after.


“UTPD confirmed to me that the students have been released without any legal penalty but will receive notice of disciplinary action from the institution. Those who are not students were cited for trespassing and have been released,” defense attorney Mike Whalen told Knox News.


University releases a statement after the arrests

The University of Tennessee, through spokesperson Kerry Gardner, released this statement after the arrest:


As communicated repeatedly today with organizers, the crowd gathered on the Law School lawn was in violation of university events policy. We do not take this situation lightly and worked throughout the day to give people information with which to make informed decisions. We met with leaders from the group, repeatedly informing them that anyone remaining in the space after 9 p.m. is subject to suspension from the university or arrest.

After this meeting and an announcement to the entire group, the group did not vacate the area and were trespassing. Nine group members were taken into custody, including seven students and two people not affiliated with the university. Any student arrested will be referred to student conduct and will be released this evening.

The University of Tennessee respects individual’s rights to free speech and free expression, and is committed to the safety of all members of our campus community. Anyone on campus must follow university policy. We will continue to be guided by the law and university policy, neutral of viewpoint.”

Demonstrators regrouped and marched through Fort Sanders

The demonstrators who were not arrested marched together along Cumberland Avenue, and continued through the Fort Sanders neighborhood before breaking up around 11 p.m.


What happened earlier on the University of Tennessee campus

University of Tennessee at Knoxville students and community members have committed to demonstrating “indefinitely” in solidarity with their peers across the country as administrators worked May 2 to set clear expectations and avoid escalation.


It was the second day of student demonstrations in support of Palestine. The gathering, centered on the lawn outside the College of Law, was led by People’s School for Gaza. A vigil May 1 on the lawn next to the Pedestrian Walkway near John C. Hodges Library was led by Students for Justice in Palestine, a separate activist group.


On the afternoon of May 2, about 90 students joined the College of Law gathering with signs and started discussions. Administrators handed out flyers emphasizing students’ rights to free speech and protest while reminding them about rules against camping, vandalism and disrupting classes.


One demonstrator, Hasan Atatrah, said students met with administrators for more than two hours and discussed the university’s investments with ties to Israel and safety of protestors. Administrators said they would look into the specifics and update the students.


Fourth-year engineering student Fatima El-Hassan told Knox News “what brings me out here today is that I just care about the world and I care about others and I believe in a liberated and free world. And I believe in the Liberation of Palestine. And I think anyone who cares about saving lives and the oppressed should be out here as well.”

El-Hassan, who was born in Sudan and attended Bearden High School, said the issue matters to her because this region is a huge research hub with ties to Oak Ridge National Lab “that was instrumental in atomic bombs that caused destruction and death. It’s my second night out here and I plan to keep coming. It’s my moral compass that has me wanting to take a stand. I want this university to divest and stop funding genocide.”


Campuses across the country have been hot spots this week for clashes between police and demonstrators, many of whom have supported Palestinians amid the Israel-Hamas war.


President Joe Biden in a May 2 speech condemned violence, destruction and antisemitism on college campuses while defending the right for pro-Palestinian protesters to peacefully demonstrate.


UT advocates said they gathered for peace, awareness and solidarity with the Palestinian people trapped by the Israel-Hamas war. Hamas launched a surprise attack from Gaza on Oct 7, 2023. The attackers killed more than 1,100 people, most of them civilians, and took hostage about 205 people. Some people targeted in the attacks have accused Hamas fighters of raping and sexually assaulting some Israelis.


Israel launched a massive counterattack that has claimed the lives of more than 34,500 Palestinians, the Gaza Health Ministry told Reuters on April 30. Palestinian health officials say two-thirds of those killed were women and children.


The UT demonstrators’ overall goals, like their peers on other campuses, are for the university to disclose any investments tied to Israel and divest from them, plus cancel a study abroad trip to Israel.


“(We) definitely support the students’ demands, which are calling for full disclosure of university investment, for divestment from weapons manufacturers involved in horrific human rights violations and involved in killing civilians, and we are calling on the university to protect its students’ rights to free speech and to free assembly,” Atatrah said.


A university spokesperson, Kerry Gardner, reiterated that students are welcome to demonstrate within the bounds of university rules and state laws.


“The university values freedom of speech and expression and is committed to the safety of all members of our campus community. Everyone on campus is expected to follow applicable laws and university policy for freedom of assembly and demonstration,” she said in a statement.


Graduate student Mark Sanchez was there to support the peaceful demonstration.


“My biggest thing is police, minimizing police brutality and interactions. As long as no one’s looting, I think they should just let people protest. If anything goes crazy, like in the news, so we’ve seen UCLA, Columbia, across the nation, it’d be heartbreaking,” he said.


Police were present throughout the day and set up a surveillance camera nearby.


Restaurant owner and Syrian refugee Yassin Terou joined the students and praised their commitment to raising awareness.

“I’m out here to support these students and to support Palestine. These students are following the law, they are protesting as their right and I’m asking that their rights be protected by this community and leaders at UT. There are children being killed and most of us out here are Americans who support Palestine,” he said. “We are standing up against genocide, to stop the genocide of innocent people.”